The River (short story)

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A tribe of hunters was walking along the River. They had done that for as long as they could remember. Their ancestors had done it, so that the generations to come could reach it. The paradise. Full of trees growing fruits, elks to hunt, and ever blossoming summer – what else could one dream of? And reaching this prosperity, abundance of joy, was the altruistic gift the forefathers sought to give their offspring.

The journey began three generations ago, counting from the elder of the tribe. Their once so beautiful home had been covered by the shadow of those from the North. The savages who enslaved those who couldn’t escape. The lore has it, the sun never shone again after the day they arrived the valley. Village after village they engulfed the valley fiercely like an unstoppable wildfire. Only a few of the ancestors had managed to escape their reign of terror.

How did the ancestors know where to go to seek for asylum? They didn’t. They wandered. Days turned into weeks and months. But the doors of the villages they visited remained closed. They were not needed, wanted, understood. They brought fear with them without the slightest intention to do so. They were carrying the stigma of the Northern tribe. What if the savages followed the asylum seekers? Villagers thought. Why would they risk everything that’s nice and pretty just to help a bunch of strangers?

Rejected, the tribe of hunters began to follow a myth, a rumor. They were desperate. Even people with good hearts would shut their doors to them. But many of them, the kind ones, would give food and tell them to follow the River. A road to salvation, they claimed it to be. There was an eden basking in the ever shining glory of the sun. It was a land where the sun would never set. A land without the darkness of the shadow the tribe from the North brought.

So they walked. Everyone in the tribe was born to walk. From as young as they could remember, they had been on the road. And it wasn’t a bad one. The River provided them with water, fish, trees growing fruits and game who had come to satisfy their thirst from the water of the River. The River was a giver, everything the tribe could ever need was provided by it. For them, the River was a god. Sometimes, it would take too. The tribe had lost a great many children that had got carried away by the current. The River would thus venge arrogance.

Today wasn’t an ordinary day in the tribe’s history, no, the youngest one spotted something in the horizon. It was something none of them had ever seen before. It looked dark. Days went by as they approached the oddity that lied ahead. Mountains they were. When they got close enough, it became evident to them that they would have to climb them. They would be separated from the River for the first time in their history. But that was the only way to follow it, and they felt afraid to face the unknown.

They started to climb, they never intended to climb so high, but they had to. They didn’t want to risk taking a more treacherous path. Playing safe would guarantee that all of them would reach the paradise. But little did they know. One night, when they were camping, a bunch of yetis attacked them. Like giants they were and quite a havoc they wrought indeed. Most of the people got killed in their sleep. Only four of them managed to escape. And they ran, as fast as they could to the furthest point they could reach before running out of stamina. They were alone. Surrounded by darkness.

Was it the River who had sent the yetis? Did it consider that the tribe had abandoned it? They could go back to the River, but the mountain path down was steep. Prudence is a virtue in times like these, they thought. Let’s continue on a safer path but sacrifice an elk to the River to calm it down, one of them said. The rest agreed and so they did. They found an elk, mightiest they had ever seen, and took it down. The River was satisfied.

The bunch of four continued their journey. But they had to take a dangerous path. They didn’t want to, but were forced to by the circumstances they faced. There was no going back. If you face the danger, you have to accept its consequences. That was what they learned the hard way. Two of them, walking behind the others, fell down from the mountain directly into the River. The elk could satisfy the River’s thirst for blood for only so long. The River had started to show a new side of itself – it had become jealous. The tribe was with the Mountain now. And with its height, it looked down to the River mockingly. The River didn’t like that at all.

The two people left cleared the dangerous path and they had to act fast. They weren’t many enough to kill an elk, so they had to sacrifice what they could. All the food they were carrying they threw down to the River. Stay calm, we will unite soon once more. The River didn’t seem happy. But there was no time to worry about that. They would have to get down as soon as they could. As they were reaching the other side of the mountain, a forest started to surround them.

Like their misfortune wasn’t enough, the yetis had followed them. The yetis started a chase. The two heroes left ran through the woods. They were weak – they hadn’t had time to catch their breath nor to eat properly. But they managed to clear the forest. What was ahead wasn’t a paradise. It was a sea. The River ended there… And there was nothing. Disappointed they fell on the ground – out of strength – and the yetis put them out of their misery.

So was the tale all false? Was it really so that there was no paradise? Or could it be that the forefathers had made a mistake? Maybe the paradise was on the other end of the River and generation after generation, the tribe had been en route to the complete opposite direction. That we shall never know, for the tribe of the River was no more.

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